By Tanu Shree Singh
If you have been following the news of late, you must have added the phrase snowplow parent to your vocabulary. Simply put, these parents are the ones who like a snowplow cleaning the path, remove all possible obstacles from the child’s path. Snowplows have overtaken the helicopters while dinosaur moms like me still watch in awe the heights and depths the parents would scale to give their child all the comforts possible. Snowplows or helicopter, you will find a whole lot of those everywhere – at the park, at school, at the infinite number of coaching classes and your neighbourhood. With parents influencing college admissions, we have finally taken things too far.
A few years back, filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor pointed out in an interview that kids today are over-parented and over-protected. As a generation, we are a paranoid lot. We carry sanitisers everywhere, complain to the RWAs about the quality of the sand in the children’s sand pit, have a half-an-hour conversation with teachers about the lunch the child refuses to have at school, and bombard social media with a gazillion questions on topics ranging from poop-colour to mosquito bites.
Now, it is not wrong to consult others on parenting issues. After all, it does take a village to raise a child. But sometimes we do need to sit back and breathe. It is alright to let the child scrape an occasional knee so that he learns to get up and dust his clothes. Same applies to home work. During the last week of holidays we all witness a spike in class Whatsapp groups’ activity levels, we see queues of parents at stationery stores, and a noticeable rise in sale of prefabricated projects. We want them to reach school with completed work on the first day by hook or crook. And in the process, we have not given them a chance to learn to face the music, or learn from experience.
Playgrounds are sanitised. Play hours strictly adhered to. The children barely have any time to think about their choices, likes and dislikes. We structure everything for them, right from what games they can play to what classes they ‘need’ to attend. We take away all sorts of risks from their life. Ironically, more and more research now points out to the necessity of risk to build resilience in children!
Noted psychologist Peter Gray in a recent study pointed out a “dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives.” In other words, we are raising a generation who has no clue how to face problems or solve them.
It is difficult to take a backseat most of the times, and no one can understand that better than me at this point of time. When my older one was in tenth grade, his peers were attending various coaching classes for IIT-JEE or medical exams. He, on the other hand, was still trying to figure out his academic likes and dislikes. Sometimes, when I see the parents around whiz past, I doubt myself. Am I letting the boys take on too much? Should I not make it all easier by deciding for them? And believe me, it takes a lot of steeling up to be able to step back, be supportive and not jump right in. They need to learn to decide. And they will. All we do is support them in the process. We cannot and should not spell their choice out for them.
For the kids to grow up into confident happy adults we need to let their roads be a little bumpy, we need to let them sulk when they get singled out for not completing their homework, and we need to let them ride the bicycle without trainers at some point of time. If we let those trainers stay, eventually we become them. And so rather than focussing on getting their balance right, the kids are busy speeding ahead. And rather than letting them learn the harder way, we automatically keep cleaning up their mess and paving a convenient way to the near future. I say near, since distant future cannot be entirely fulfilling if the child is forever looking back at us to pick up the pieces, to make things right.
It is tough. Our instinct pushes us to protect children. But the distinction between protection and making life easier for the child is getting blurred year after year. We need to take a stand if we wish our children well. We need to let go. We need to let them learn from the mistakes, let them earn their place in the world. We need to learn from them, with them. We need to accept the fact that we are not super-parents and can probably not fix everything that is broken. A few cracks add to the character. We need to let them get theirs. We need to let go a little today, so that tomorrow the little one can step into the future with firm, confident, and sometimes shaky steps.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)